Caught (up) in traffic

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Tacloban City waterfront

While going around the city’s downtown area last week to inspect the work of our surveyors, we decided to take a break at a fast-food restaurant near the port. This branch of the fast-food chain offered nice views of the city’s waterfront and I took a few photos that I share below:

A vendor’s cart located at the road behind the fast-food restaurant – the road is used by public utility vehicles as an informal terminal and you will seldom see vehicles passing through it.

A large outrigger sits at the port. These vessels 

Freighters and cranes at Tacloban’s port

A ship arriving at Tacloban

First call for papers for the TSSP 2017 conference

The first call for papers for the 24th Annual Conference of the Transportation Science Society of the Philippines came out last Wednesday, Feb. 15:

first-call-for-papers-13feb2017

Undas traffic

Metro Manila traffic is usually lighter during Undas – the days when we remember those who passed away. Many people go back to their hometowns and this is significant because many residing or working or studying in Metro Manila hail from other provinces. Of course, some people would rather go on a vacation during this time with many now opting to travel abroad rather than braving crowded cemeteries of their hometowns. Some do the so-called ‘staycations’ – basically staying put at home during the undas break (Sorry, staying in a hotel is technically not a ‘staycation’ as many people claim it to be.)

What are the facilities that are expected to be congested? These would be the gateways from Metro Manila to other provinces. These would be airports, sea ports, bus terminals and major roads connecting Metro Manila to the provinces. There would be similar situations in other gateways as well such as in Cebu in the Visayas and Davao in Mindanao. Of course, all roads leading to cemeteries, memorial parks and columbariums. These roads would be filled with people (mostly walking) and vehicles (mostly private cars and tricycles and pedicabs if local roads) who congregate in these areas to remember and pay tribute to their dead.

The congestion experienced in most roads during this time of year is usually manageable and local governments can and are usually prepared to address transport and traffic issues within their jurisdictions. Tollways also employ their own strategies and tactics to deal with toll plaza congestion. The Land Transport Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) issues additional temporary permits to bus companies to field more vehicles along high demand routes. Meanwhile, airports and seaports would have to deal with their own versions of congestion though it is expected that such peaking or spiking up of travel activity can be handled by many airports and ports considering that these facilities are supposed to be designed for higher than usual demands.

Here’s wishing everyone safe travels during this Undas weekend. Mag-iingat lalo na sa pagmamaneho. Huwag magpatakbo na tila hinahabol ninyo ang araw ng mga patay!”

EASTS 2015 – Cebu City, September 11-13, 2015

The 11th International Conference of the Eastern Asia Society for Transportation Studies (EASTS 2015) will be held in Cebu City this September 11-13, 2015. For information on the conference and program, check out their website here:

http://www.easts2015.com/

You can also download a brochure about EASTS here:

EASTS brochure2014-2015a

The conference is hosted by the Transportation Science Society of the Philippines (TSSP), which is the local affiliate of the EASTS. More information on the TSSP are found below:

TSSP brochure_inside TSSP brochure_cover-back

Sabang Port – Puerto Princesa

The jump-off point for visitors to the St. Paul Subterranean River (Underground River) is the Sabang Port at the northwest part of Puerto Princesa. Following are photos taken at Sabang including some showing information on transport and procedures for visitors.

IMG09422-20140927-0829Map of the national park showing some of its features and the transport services to/from the port.

IMG09423-20140927-0829Information on the management of the national park

IMG09424-20140927-0829Greetings for visitors

IMG09425-20140927-0829Puerto Princesa limits the number of visitors to the Underground River and there are procedures for visitors and their accredited guides to follow.

IMG09426-20140927-0830I caught this scene of children playing football on the sands during low-tide.

IMG09427-20140927-0830While most boats seem to be for ferrying tourists to the Subterranean River, there are also many fishing boats at Sabang.

IMG09428-20140927-0830Fishermen fixing up their boat likely before going on a sortie. I could imagine Sabang was like other fishing villages in the Philippines until authorities started promoting attractions like the Underground River. The influx of tourists transformed what was probably a sleepy village into a tourist destination complete with commercial developments like resorts, restaurants and shops.

IMG09429-20140927-0831Outriggers dot the waters around Sabang Port, their boatmen waiting for their turn to ferry visitors to the Underground River.

IMG09430-20140927-0831The concrete pier provides a basic but better facility compared to other similar ports around the country. The dispatching of boats is organised and passengers queue in an orderly manner to board the boats assigned to them.

IMG09431-20140927-0832A boat (left) approaches as another (right) just left, bound for the Underground River.

IMG09432-20140927-0832Clean restrooms /toilets are a must for tourist destinations. Sayang Port has well-maintained toilets.

IMG09433-20140927-0832Tourism office at Sabang Port – note the basketball goal post in the photo? The area is also used for other purposes including sports activities. Also noticeable in the photo are street lamps powered by solar energy. We saw some solar-wind power lamps around Puerto Princesa and Sabang’s main road has these for night-time illumination.

IMG09434-20140927-0833A close-up of the small box showing schedule and cost of transport services to/from Sabang from/to Puerto Princesa city proper. Note that there are only 4 trips per day for public transport (bus or jeepney). 

IMG09435-20140927-0835Boatmen manoeuvre their vessels in the crowded waters of Sabang Port.

IMG09436-20140927-0836Another photo of boats lined up at the port.

IMG09437-20140927-0837Portable or collapsible sheds or tents at the port often bear the name of the company sponsoring or providing these for port users. Under one, there was a group facilitating the tour of a group of senior citizens from around Puerto Princesa. We got it from our guide that they are given free rides and visits to the Underground River as part of their benefits as senior citizens.

IMG09490-20140927-1030Visitors get-off from their boats as other vessels queue to unload their passengers. It takes some skill from boatmen to manoeuvre and make sure they don’t collide with other vessels.

IMG09492-20140927-1033People get off a boat via a makeshift floating jetty

IMG09493-20140927-1034Scene of the port and boats from the shop and eatery-lined road along the coast.

Advice to tourists: tip your boatmen generously. They serve as your lifeguards and do their best to maintain the boats and the equipment. They don’t get much from ferrying visitors to and from the Underground River and they do have families to feed. Make this tip your contribution to ensuring sustainable tourism in this heritage site that is also considered one of the top natural wonders of the world.

Sta. Lourdes Wharf – Puerto Princesa City

The jump-off point to island hopping in Honda Bay is Sta. Lourdes Wharf just north of Puerto Princesa City proper. I have seen this wharf evolve into the modern (compared to other Philippine wharves or ports) facility that it is now. I guess this is possible if both national and local government really put the necessary resources to improve such infrastructure that obviously benefits everyone and not just the tourists who happen to flock to this port for island-hopping trips.

2014-09-26 07.45.55The local tourism office and amenities like toilets are housed in this building. What it used to be was a building made out of bamboo with nipa and a few iron sheets for roofing. Boats were moored just behind the building in what looked like a chaotic set-up for tourists and islanders. There was no concrete road 5 years ago and the dirt road was a muddy mess during the wet season.

2014-09-26 07.46.19Philippine Coast Guard station at the wharf

2014-09-26 07.46.36Outriggers carrying passengers; mostly tourists on the Honda Bay island hopping package

2014-09-26 07.46.46This larger boat is not necessarily for tourists but for ferrying passengers between the mainland and the smaller islands off Palawan. It is obviously of sturdier design and has a bigger passenger capacity.

2014-09-26 07.46.56Our outrigger waiting for us to board. The crew consisted of two boatmen – one handling the motor and driving the boat while another was in-charge of handling the line, anchor and maneuvering the boat from the port and towards the sea (with just a bamboo pole as a tool).

2014-09-26 07.47.02A snapshot of other boats docked along the wharf shows mostly outriggers. In the background at about right is a glimpse of a Philippine National Police fast craft. The PNP has a maritime unit complementing the Philippine Coast Guard and those stationed in Palawan have modern fast craft capable of giving chase to pouchers and pirates in their speedy boats. 

2014-09-26 07.59.41A Chinese boat moored at the PNP dock. This fishing boat was intercepted by Philippine authorities illegally fishing in Philippine waters. This was the subject of well-circulated news reports showing the Chinese were catching endangered species like sea turtles and were carrying live and dead pangolins and other wildlife they were smuggling out of Palawan (with the help of shady Filipinos, of course).

I think the Sta. Lourdes Wharf is a good example of adequate port facilities serving both passengers (including tourists) and goods. It provides for the basic needs of users though there is usually some congestion at the port due to increasing tourism activities. The wharf practically becomes a parking lot to tourist vehicles during certain times of the day and this becomes serious during the peak tourism months. This, however, is a minor concern for now. Access to the wharf is also excellent with good quality concrete roads from the city centre to the wharf; a combination of national and local roads being developed to a standard that makes them “all-weather” and comfortable for use by travellers using all types of vehicles. This is something that can and should be replicated for similar ports around the country not just for tourism areas but basically to address the needs of travellers and goods.

On logistics in the Philippines

I am not a logistics expert and will not pretend to be one. I have, however, been involved in several projects that included logistics as a major study component. These include a nationwide study on inter-regional passenger and freight flow and another for freight forwarders affected by vehicle restraint policies in Metro Manila.  A more recent engagement has allowed me to take a look at logistics in the country from other perspectives including that of national agencies seeking to improve goods movement in the country and development agencies that have committed to help the country to do just that. There are local issues and there are regional ones. The regional ones often involve the need for infrastructure such as maritime ports and airports, highways and bridges, and other facilities such as those for storage and refrigeration.

For an archipelago like the Philippines, logistics is a bit more challenging than in countries whose territories are not separated by bodies of water. There is no lack for good practices though as there are other archipelagos that could provide good examples for connecting the islands such as Japan and the United Kingdom. Nearby, we share similar challenges with Indonesia and to a certain extent Malaysia. Of course, availability of resources is always an issue and particularly for the prioritization of infrastructure to be constructed aside from those that need to be maintained. The DOTC along with its attached agencies like the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) and the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) are in the frontline when it comes to airports and ports planning, development, and maintenance are concerned. However, the DPWH plays a vital role for highways and bridges and the connections for these ports and airports including what is termed as “last-mile” connectivity that is often passed on as a responsibility of local governments. This is likely due to local roads often providing the connection between national roads (under the DPWH) and ports and airports. It is a good thing that the current DPWH has committed to a convergence program regarding national and local roads that has benefited a lot of sectors and industries like tourism and agriculture.

Rail transport is not mentioned here because there is practically none even for what remains of the once relatively extensive PNR main lines. The local issues are not simpler and can be a bit more complicated than the regional ones. The complications are usually due to more petty circumstances that may involve politics and local power plays. The basic ingredients though are related to traffic congestion and the damage to roads and bridges attributed to trucks.

Many cities and municipalities have implemented truck bans along their major roads. These are usually one or two routes in the smaller cities and towns, usually passing through the “bayan,” “poblacion” or central business district (CBD). These roads are usually national roads (e.g., McArthur Highway and the Pan Philippine Highway pass through many towns). As such, there are cases where bypass roads are constructed to alleviate congestion along these roads as well as to try to preserve the pavements in the town proper. Such traffic schemes targeting heavy vehicles are not new and are also a way to address the issue on overloading that is common in trucking in the Philippines. The bypass roads, however, generally invite development and unplanned development have often made these alternate routes more congested than the original ones.

Manila did a “power play” recently by implementing a more aggressive truck ban. This led to more severe congestion around the Port of Manila and a lot of delays that have cost a lot of money in part due to the limited alternative routes in the city and most roads are already constricted. The costs have repercussions on the economy in general as the movement of goods are affected by the impasse in Manila. Whether this was for more political or practical reasons is difficult to say because the mayor and vice mayor have invoked the very common issues of traffic congestion, road safety and pavement maintenance that got the attention, sentiment and agreement of a lot of people. Many of these people though do not understand the impacts of inefficient goods movement and likely are concerned only about passenger transportation.

More recently, a lot of containers were shipped from the Port of Manila to Subic. These are supposedly “overstaying” shipments or those that have not been claimed for a long time or have some issues regarding their release. This should ease congestion somehow but there remain the problems of shipping or logistics companies regarding freight transport in general that needs to be addressed. Both Subic and Batangas ports have been mentioned in many formal studies over the past few years including a more recent one supported by JICA. Still, there is a lot of hesitation if not confusion or uncertainty on how to go about with shifting goods movement to these ports, which are regarded to be underutilized. There are good roads connecting these ports with cities and towns but these might not be enough in the long run.

Perhaps there is a need to reconsider regional rail transport again especially for the islands of Luzon and Mindanao where long distance rail may have a tremendous impact for transporting goods over long distances. Of course, there are also issues pertaining to other ports and airports in the country including those in Mindanao (e.g., Davao, Cagayan de Oro, Phividec, Gen. Santos, etc.) and Visayas (e.g., Cebu, Iloilo, Tacloban, etc.). The RORO ports are among those that need attention as they are directly involve road transport aside from the ferries that carry them over the waters. These nautical highways are vital for goods movement around the country and require both national agencies and local governments cooperating for these facilities and services to function efficiently.